Ex-Mossad head to ‘Post’: No one will stop Iran from going nuclear 

Source: Ex-Mossad head to ‘Post’: No one will stop Iran from going nuclear – The Jerusalem Post

INTELLIGENCE AFFAIRS: Ex-Mossad head Shabtai Shavit talks about post-nuke Iran, annexation, the CIA, China and counterintelligence.

FORMER DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Mossad Shabtai Shavit speaks in Tel Aviv in 2017. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
FORMER DIRECTOR-GENERAL of the Mossad Shabtai Shavit speaks in Tel Aviv in 2017.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Nothing will stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, so Israel must work on a menacing deterrent capability to keep the Islamic Republic in check even beyond its eventual attainment of them, former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit has told The Jerusalem Post.

Speaking to the Post about the English version of his book Head of the Mossad (University of Notre Dame Press), which will be out in stores in September, Shavit covered a wide range of other issues, including annexation, cooperation with the CIA, US-China quantum technology competition and counterintelligence.

In the book, he describes how he knows the Iranian people up close from living in Iran in the mid-1960s for 18 months, and from how he cooperated with Iranian intelligence (pre-Islamic Republic) while in Kurdistan in 1973.

Regarding Iran, he said, “I speak as an intelligence man and not as a politician. My starting point – an intelligence officer cannot make assumptions – is to be ready for the worst-case scenario, that down the road they’ll develop nuclear weapons.”

“They are an empire, and they think of themselves as an empire. They believe they will bring light to the nations. They look down on Arabs. They never forgave the Arab conquest and that Arabic was forced on them” and all of the actions to erase their Persian heritage.

Shavit explained further that even as the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War had no victor, Iraq clearly did better, and then-Iranian supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini said ending the war was “like drinking poison.”

Khomeini had been ready to “send children into battle with explosives… all of these examples show the culture and ethos of Iran as a power that went through very hard times and wants to get back to what it was.”The former Mossad chief noted Iran is a subcontinent in terms of its size, which could fit much of Europe inside it, with a huge population of more than 80 million people of 35-36 different racial backgrounds.

Complimenting Iran, he noted that “they were able to find common ground” as a nation-state, adding that even current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei comes from a minority racial background descending from Azerbaijan.

He said Iran learned from Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against it during the Iran-Iraq War that it needed to obtain all nonconventional weapons, including nuclear.

Shavit commented, “I have no doubt that Iran is continuing to work today, as we speak, to develop nuclear capabilities. They are doing it clandestinely to avoid provoking the US and the rest of the world.”

“They are advanced… they will decide, on the basis of their overall progress and situation, when it is that they want to hold a press conference to say ‘we have it.’ They could do it even before a nuclear test. When it happens, I don’t think anyone will go attack them. Did anyone do anything when North Korea made its announcement?” he said.

Incidentally, Shavit dismisses Israel’s strikes on the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs as not relevant to the far more formidable Iranian adversary.

He stated, “The world learns to live with it…. We need to prepare for the day Iran says they have it. I don’t say this so we should attack preemptively; rather, so we should have deterrence. They should know it is not worth” making trouble for Israel.

The Post asked Shavit if he was referring to the 80-200 nuclear weapons that Israel possesses, according to foreign sources.

While Shavit is always extremely careful not to disclose classified information, he made it clear he was referring to broadcasting to Iran that the onslaught Israel could unleash on them would be far worse than anything they could use to attack Israel.

Similarly, Shavit thought that the key to dealing with Hezbollah is to try to maintain an indefinite ceasefire, but make it clear to Hezbollah that if it attacks Israel in any way, it will face a decisive strike – and to constantly maintain the capabilities for such an onslaught.


Shavit is a puzzle when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On one hand, he vocally opposed the Oslo Accords. On the other hand, he has loudly opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s push for annexation of 30% of the West Bank, as provided for in US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

The Post asked Shavit about partial annexation, such as annexing only the Gush Etzion bloc or Ma’aleh Adumim, which the Blue and White Party reportedly favors.

“I don’t want to go down that path. That road is secondary in importance,” he said, deflecting the specific question.

Shavit wanted to explain his perspective on all of the big picture issues.

He said, “I was not against Oslo ideologically. My opposition was procedural. The problem was that there was insufficient background work on all of the military and diplomatic implications. [Shimon] Peres… dragged [Yitzhak] Rabin and Israel into Oslo. The internal process leading to Oslo was not democratic.”

Regarding annexation, Shavit expressed concern that “we will sentence ourselves to being a minority” in terms of demographics and continued democracy.

Also, he warned that Israel would face sanctions – and “we can’t handle such a price.”

The former chief spy said, “I come from an organization whose emblem is ‘outsmart your adversaries.’ We shouldn’t bang our head into the wall.”

Elaborating, he said that if it takes a long time to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict, “okay, so it will take a long time. Who says that Bibi’s [annexation] push has to happen right now, when there is a second corona[virus] wave and an economic crisis?”

Next, Shavit noted that Trump “tried to get 20,000 people to [a rally] in Tulsa,” with estimates that only around 6,000 came, and that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe “Biden is ahead in all of the polls.”

“In January, if Biden gets to the White House – can Israel stand against the US?” Shavit asked, referencing Biden’s recent statement that annexation would choke the peace process.

Exasperated, he said, “We need to be forward-looking…. For his [Netanyahu’s] legacy, I, as a citizen, need to pay a long-term mortgage” of having to deal with numerous threats and problems that annexation would bring?

Mossad working with hostile actors/countries

Shavit was questioned about whether he had ever been in a position similar to that of current Mossad director Yossi Cohen, who in recent years has acted as a middleman to ensure Qatar continues to bankroll Hamas (so Hamas does not go to war with Israel).

“There is nothing new under the sun. What was will be, and what is happening now has been before. But back then, no one knew or saw. Only those who needed to know knew,” said Shavit smiling.

Shavit implied the Mossad had been involved in all kinds of below-the-radar communications and activities with the Palestinians, Jordan and Syria.

More specifically, he said, and describes in the book in greater detail, when prime minister Rabin “wanted to understand what [former Syrian president Hafez] Assad would really give for peace, he sent me to the king of Morocco to ask him to check with Assad. We just didn’t write about it.”

Problems with NSA and with Shin Bet coronavirus surveillance

In his book, Shavit writes that the National Security Agency in the US has 35,000 employees with an annual budget of $11 billion, dwarfing all of its counterparts, besides perhaps its Russian and Chinese ones. He adds that it can intercept all traffic that passes through fiber-optic cables worldwide and digitally “rob” any laptop.

“The NSA has such powerful capabilities – we are sitting here, and if they flag us for coverage, they can ‘sit’ with us in the room. Do you want to live your life in a world like that?” he asked.

Questioned about whether he sees any connection between his concerns about the NSA and the ongoing current debate about whether the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) should be involved in tracking coronavirus-infected citizens, he said “they are connected. I don’t like the use of the Shin Bet for [tracking] coronavirus[-infected citizens],” noting that even Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman opposes the program.

Continuing, he stated, “The decision of those running the country creates a dynamic…. Today, they say it will be used only very selectively. Then there will be a second time, then a third time, then it already gets legitimized.

“This tool was developed for a very limited purpose: to fight terror. This will change it into a routine working tool for the prime minister, and it is against the basic principles of democracy,” he said.

Speaking of the prime minister, when questioned how he would handle having both a prime minister and an alternate prime minister to potentially report to, he said, “I am glad that I don’t need to deal with this dilemma,” while noting traditionally the Mossad chief reports only to the prime minister.

Cooperation with the CIA

Today, Shavit said, “geographic borders are no longer meaningful. Intelligence today requires many deals and lots of global cooperation, like in every other discipline where there is now global cooperation. There are exchanges of intelligence information, in-person meetings” and other partnerships.

However, in the past, he said, “the Americans were always very protective about intelligence, assets and capabilities.”

Without revealing classified specifics, he recounted that one time “I wanted to get some American technology…. But there is always give and take. He [a CIA official whom he was not permitted to name] said ‘what is in it for me?’

“I said ‘the intelligence which I collect, I will give you for free – fair?’ He said ‘no. You come and tell me the intelligence target which you are able to get access to, and then I will provide the technology.’ I said ‘Okay.’ I was the small humble Mossad versus the giant CIA,” said Shavit.

Next, “I suggested an operational target. We did all of the preparation for the operation…. They eventually provided the technology, but with their people. Our people carried them on our backs.”

So “I didn’t get anything out of it. The intelligence was split between the sides. They used the technology,” implying the CIA got the better part of the deal. “I understood this was the situation, so the next time I invested my own resources” for technology.

Quantum technology race with China

Regarding the quantum technological arms race, Shavit said, “The Chinese are developing both quantum computing and communications capabilities for both defense and offense,” and it seems they are racing ahead of the US in this area.

Experts predict that quantum technology will leap past today’s cyber and hacking capabilities.

“I hope someone will tell me that I am wrong, that the US is really working on this” sufficiently.

Continuing, he said, “It is not enough to be first or second. To maintain supremacy, you need to be ahead of the second place party, not just by one generation, but by at least one-and-a-half generations, because everyone steals from each other. So, if someone steals, I should already be looking at what is next.”


With the US worried about Chinese technology and spying, the conversation turned to counterintelligence and detecting traitors.

Shavit explained, “In counterintelligence, there is no patent [short cut]…. It is an ongoing war of cat and mouse. You must always invest in it so as not to be surprised, but you will still always be surprised. Ever since people existed on the planet, they have changed their minds, and in different situations they become ready to harm their own country.

“You try to do everything to prevent this. When you draft people, you bring them through a series of nets and you check them and check them. How do you know for sure they won’t become a traitor? You can’t know,” he admitted with some frustration.

But “if you close all of the openings in the network, you won’t have any people. You have no choice.”

He added that some traitors were ideological, in which case “you have no chance to reveal them until after. Five scientists in Cambridge, England, decided ideologically that to ‘save the world,’ they needed to give the USSR nuclear secrets because the world could only continue to exist if both sides had them. If both sides didn’t have, world stability would fall apart. They did it over an ideology,” which no one could have anticipated.

Time has passed since Shavit ran the Mossad, but his experience and insight are still nearly unmatched.


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One Comment on “Ex-Mossad head to ‘Post’: No one will stop Iran from going nuclear ”

  1. Kavan Says:

    Mr. Shavit says:
    “They are an empire, and they think of themselves as an empire. They believe they will bring light to the nations. They look down on Arabs. They never forgave the Arab conquest and that Arabic was forced on them” and all of the actions to erase their Persian heritage.”
    This assessment is partly inaccurate and partly ambiguous.
    It is not clear to whom in what time frame he is referring. Iran is a multinational country composed of many minorities. Those so-called Persians are the largest minority, and not an absolute majority.
    There is absolutely not a cohesive national identity in Iran. Had it not been for mullahs’ iron fist, Iran would have been disintegrated into many Istans.
    Iranians from every ethno-religious group share only two aspirations: regime change, immigration from this doomed country.
    But, what he says about mullahs’ ultimate goal to develop WMD is correct. However, I vehemently disagree with him that the world should learn to coexist with a nuclear Iran.
    The regime is apocalyptic, no deterrence can thwart the doom they are aiming at.

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